The seizure of a statue commemorating those killed in the Tiananmen Crackdown for a case under the Beijing-imposed national security law was “legal, reasonable, and rational,” Hong Kong police have said. Meanwhile, the artist behind the statue has said he is willing to testify in court to prove that the artwork is not linked to the case.

The Pillar of Shame, a statue created by Danish artist Jens Galschiøt, was seized by the national security police last Friday as evidence for an incitement to subversion case.

Pillar of Shame University of Hong Kong HKUSU
Members of the University of Hong Kong students’ union stand in front of the Pillar of Shame. File photo: Supplied.

The seize of the sculpture was conducted with a court warrant, a police spokesperson said in a statement published in the early hours of Thursday.

“Like any other case, to collect evidence following progress of investigation to take forward the relevant case is legal, reasonable and rational,” the statement read.

The Pillar of Shame stood on the University of Hong Kong (HKU) campus for 24 years before it was removed by the school citing safety concerns in December 2021. The statue was reportedly stored at the HKU Kadoorie Centre in Yuen Long.

Galschiøt told HKFP last week that he thought it was “completely crazy” that the sculpture was allegedly being used as evidence against pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong.

In a letter to the Hong Kong government dated Wednesday, Galschiøt said he wanted “an answer” as to why he had not been notified about the seizure of the sculpture. Galschiøt also said he wanted a copy of the search warrant.

The statue was erected before the city’s handover in 1997, the artist said, adding that he had covered the costs of transporting and installing the Pillar of Shame himself. “Therefore, other individuals cannot be held responsible for it,” the letter read.

Galschiøt said he would “gladly” appear in court to testify that the sculpture was set up in Hong Kong on his own initiative.

Jens Galschiøt
Jens Galschiøt. File photo: Jens Galschiøt.

The artist also said he would like official confirmation that the sculpture would be returned to him once it was no longer considered evidence.

The Pillar of Shame was among several artworks linked to the Tiananmen Crackdown that were removed from university campuses in December 2021. The Chinese University of Hong Kong and Lingnan University also removed Tiananmen monuments from their sites.

The organisers of the city’s annual commemorations of the crackdown have also been charged under the sweeping security legislation.

The now-defunct Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, and three of its former leaders – Lee Cheuk-yan, Albert Ho, and Chow Hang-tung – stand accused of incitement to subversion, which has a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

Photo: Todd Darling/HKFP.
The candlelight vigil held on June 4, 2019 to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. Photo: Todd R. Darling/HKFP.

The Tiananmen Crackdown occurred on June 4, 1989, ending months of student-led demonstrations in China. It is estimated that hundreds, perhaps thousands, died when the People’s Liberation Army cracked down on protesters in Beijing.

The national security law, enacted in June 2020, also criminalised secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.

The move gave police sweeping new powers, alarming democrats, civil society groups and trade partners, as such laws have been used broadly to silence and punish dissidents in China. However, the authorities say it has restored stability and peace to the city.

New York protest

Following the seizure of the statue, a group of protesters gathered at Times Square in New York with a nine-metre poster of the pillar and held a demonstration.

Zhou Fengsuo, who was a student activist at the Tiananmen Crackdown and is now the executive director of Human Rights in China, said on Twitter on Tuesday that the New York protest was “the best response” to the police seizure of the sculpture.

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.